Borussia Dortmund went top of the Champion League Group D—the “Group of Death”—after an emphatic and deserved win over perennial football giants and Spanish Champions Real Madrid. It was perfectly visible that Dortmund were the better side, and the scoreline could have been more flattering had Dortmund capitalized on their chances.
However, there was much anxiety in Dormund over the closing stages of the game, as fans were unsure whether they would suffer a fate similar to the one suffered at the hands of Manchester City.
The English Champions, after being thoroughly dominated and only been kept in the game due to the excellence of goalkeeper Joe Hart, were awarded a controversial penalty for a supposed Neven Subotic handball in the dying minutes. Mario Balotelli slotted the ball home calmly, and Dortmund must have felt it was robbed.
But, Dortmund was organized and behaved as a tightly knit, well-functioning engine against Los Blancos and thwarted their attack, which was mediocre at best and never appeared to be in sync.
Three points from the game means Dortmund remain the favourites to emerge from the “Group of Death."
If last year's shambolic performance in the Champions League was anything to go by, this win could be characterized as an upset. But last year's blip was largely due to a lack of experience.
This year, having put on superb showings, Borussia Dortmund have rightfully demonstrated that they are the hottest team emerging in football.
To those who have followed Borussia Dortmund over the past few years, it is no surprise they are performing so well.
This is the same team that beat last year’s CL finalists Bayern Munich to the Bundesliga title, and thrashed them completely in the domestic cup, DFB Pokal, by shipping five goals past Manuel Neuer.
Obviously, those who can stand toe-to-toe with Bayern Munich need to be regarded in a more flattering light. Indeed, last night’s performance must have won many admirers.
Borussia Dortmund has always been a great club with a rich history and a great level of domestic and European success.
Ballspeil-Verein Borussia 1909 e.V. Dortmund (BVB Dortmund) was founded in 1909 by 17 football players from Dortmund, a city based in Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia state.
Thus far, Borussia Dortmund have been bestowed with several domestic and European honors. In 1966, Dortmund became the first German-based club to win a European title when they won the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup.
They have also won eight Bundesliga titles, three DFB-Pokals (German Cup), four German Supercups and one UEFA Champions League.
After returning to the German top-flight in 1976, Dortmund faced increasing financial difficulties and barely avoided relegation in 1986 (a playoff game against Fortuna Cologne ensured survival).
In 1990-1991 season, Dortmund finished an impressive 10th place in the Bundesliga.
However, with Ottmar Hitzfeld’s appointment as manager for the next season, Dortmund finished second.
1992-1993 marked a major year for Die Schwarzgelben, who went on to the UEFA Cup Final (now the Europa League) which saw them take home 25 million Deutsche Marks of prize money. This cash injection allowed Dortmund to sign top players.
Having acquired top talent, Die Borussen went on to win two successive Bundesliga titles—in 1995 and 1996—and Dortmund's Matthias Sammer was subsequently named European Footballer of the Year.
Their most memorable moment came in 1997, when they defeated juggernauts Juventus 3-1 to win the UEFA Champions League for the first time in their club history.
2001-2002 season saw Dortmund emerge German champions yet again. However, they lost in the final of the UEFA Cup to Feyenoord.
Financial Mismanagement and Decline
Financial mismanagement led to the accumulation of large debts, the sale of the Westfalenstadion ground and a 20% pay cut to the players.
Sales of key players like David Odonkor to Real Betis and Tomas Rosicky to Arsenal allowed the club's fortunes to improve. Yet in 2006-07, Dortmund struggled to remain in the top flight of German football; three coaches came and went before Thomas Doll was appointed manager in March of 2007.
Jürgen Klopp arrived in May 2008, having replaced Doll, and changed Dortmund’s fortunes completely.
Jürgen Klopp’s Arrival and Return to Dominance
Previously, Klopp had managed the Mainz 05, where he led the club to their first ever promotion to the Bundesliga and also qualification for the 2005-06 UEFA Cup.
He also appeared as a regular pundit on the ZDF (a German Public Television network) where he quickly established a major following. His impressive understanding of the game soon had a host of clubs vying to sign him, and he eventually agreed to be manager of Borussia Dortmund.
In his very first season, Klopp guided Dortmund to a DFB-Supercup, defeating champions Bayern Munich. Dortmund also finished an impressive sixth place in the 2008-2009 season.
An injection of a lot of talented youths into the roster saw Dortmund rise to an impressive fifth place finish the following season.
2010-2011 was a highly successful year for Dortmund, as they beat Bayern Munich to the Bundesliga title, their first one since 2001-2001. 2011-12 was even more impressive, as Klopp led his men to the club’s first ever domestic double; the season also saw Die Borussen accumulate the largest number of points (81) in Bundesliga history.
As with most Bundesliga teams, Borussia Dortmund’s core is formed by mostly German players. Production of home-grown players is a driving force behind not only Dortmund’s’ but the Bundesliga’s success as well.
A decade ago, the Bundesliga and the German FA made an agreement that, to obtain a license to compete, one must found and run an education academy.
The results have been spectacular, as less money is spent on transfers while a vast array of talent has been provided for the national team, which has had successful runs in all the major European and World competitions. (Of the 23-man national squad announced for the World Cup in South Africa, 19 came from the Bundesliga academies, while the other four came from the Bundesliga-2 academies.)
In these academies, at least 12 players that are admitted in each round have to be eligible to play for Germany, thereby providing a continuous replenishment of great, young football talent, and all clubs have a strong relationship with the German FA.
Hence, players who have grown up playing in the youth system have benefitted greatly from the philosophy employed at the grass-roots level.
Dortmund have several world-class players within their ranks, most notably the German trio of Mario Götze, Marco Reus and Mats Hummels—all highly esteemed in football circles. Players like Roman Weidenfeller, Sven Bender, Kevin Grosskreutz, and Ilkay Gündogan are other notable German talents within the ranks.
To bolster the crop, Dortmund have added some high-quality players from other countries as well. Neven Subotic is widely regarded as one of the best defenders in the world and is often compared to his fellow Serbian Nemanja Vidic.
Robert Lewandowski is another great forward who has caught the attention of several high-profile clubs, while Ivan Perišić and Łukasz Piszczek are also formidable players.
Although Japanese sensation Shinji Kagawa departed to Manchester United over the summer, Marco Reus’ decision to snub Bayern Munich to join his boyhood favourites Borussia Dortmund solidified Dortmund’s reputation of being able to retain and attract top talent.
Style of Play
Before Klopp’s arrival, Dortmund played very rigidly, but the style of play changed considerably with the appointment of the former Mainz boss.
He injected a lot of youth and dynamism into the squad and brought key players in from elsewhere. The most notable purchases were those of defensive stalwarts Hummels and Subotic. Klopp also brought back Nuri Sahin from a loan spell at Feyenoord, and he would play a major role in Dortmund’s resurgence.
Wunderkind Mario Götze was also promoted from within the ranks.
In the summer of 2010, Kagawa and Lewandowski were both signed, helping Klopp to refine the team intensely and add much more attacking flair.
Having been a notable former manager and renowned pundit, he introduced remarkable reforms at Dortmund. They started to spread play out by effectively utilizing the wingers, playing long balls and employing fluid formations akin to those introduced by Arsene Wenger at Arsenal.
It was evident immediately from yesterday’s game that Dortmund strive to maintain much possession, spreading the ball quickly with one touch passes. No player hogs the ball for much but instead tries to pass to someone in a better position. Wingers frequently cut back inside and try to interchange not only with full-backs but midfield players as well.
When opportunity is there, long balls are played often and attacks are commenced from both the wings and through the middle.
However, one major problem of Dortmund has been their complacency in defending counter attacks. They frequently get caught out and are susceptible to being torn apart by through balls. But, in regular passage of play, Hummels and Subotic are both strong aerially and are great interceptors.
Obviously, Dortmund will try to win the Champions League and remain as one of the teams to watch should they proceed from their group.
However, qualification is not certain.
With both Manchester City and Real Madrid being formidable teams, complacency will hurt Dortmund greatly. And Ajax are no pushovers, demonstrated by their performance against Manchester City.
Priority should lie in going through to the next stages and hopefully top the group as well.
Domestically, Dortmund have not been so impressive, having lost twice already and sitting in fourth position. However, the season is still a long way from finishing, and teams like Eintracht Frankfurt, who have enjoyed a great run thus far might falter halfway through.
Bayern Munich have been very impressive, having won all eight of their games, but have not impressed in the Champions League thus far.
With a bit of luck, Dortmund might go all the way this year to complete a historic treble.
1. Did you know that Borussia Dortmund have the largest stadium in Germany—Westfalenstadion (officially Signal Iduna Park) has a capacity of 80,720 people.
2. The Yellow Wall, the biggest football stand, within the stadium holds around 26,000 supporters, with the average cost of a ticket being only 15 euros.
3. Their biggest rivalry is with Schalke 04, who convincingly defeated Arsenal in the Group B encounter last night. Just recently, Schalke won 2-1 against Dortmund, a game that saw intense rioting, leading to the arrest of 180 people.
How much can Borussia Dortmund Progress in Champions League This Season?
4. Borussia Dortmund became a publicly traded company at the turn of the millennium. They were the first—and thus far the only—German football club that is publicly traded on the German stock market.
5. Dortmund won their title in 2001-2002 on the very last day of the season. They managed to get 70 points, while Bayer Leverkusen, the runner-up, managed only 69.
The 2001-2002 season became Leverkusen’s chance for eternal glory with the opportunity to win the treble. However, having been five points beyond the nearest competitor until Gameweek 31 out of 34, Leverkusen gifted the title to Dortmund.
Incredibly, Leverkusen lost in GW 32 against Werder Bremen and GW 33 against relegation contenders FC Nürnberg. Dortmund managed to win a highly exciting game against Hamburg, winning 4-3, and then went on to beat Werder Bremen on the final day to seal the title.
To compound the misery for Leverkusen, they first lost the DFB-Pokal to Schalke and then a superb Zinedine Zidane volley, one of the greatest goals the game has ever seen, ended their hopes of being crowned European Champions.
Follow me on Twitter: @BrenGoetze